Means as Message


The Times returns to a past series on driving distractions to look at LED billboards:

Some cities and states are debating whether to prohibit or regulate this new form of advertising for fear that it can distract drivers and raise the rate of accidents.

new study concludes that there are environmental reasons to avoid digital billboards as well. Digital billboards, which are made of LED lights, consume lots of energy and are made of components that will turn into e-waste once the billboard’s life has ended.

But wait, you ask, isn’t LED lighting quite energy-efficient? True, notes the report’s author, Gregory Young, a Philadelphia-based architectural designer and urban planner. But traditional billboards are lit by only two or three lamps, albeit inefficient ones, and only at night. By contrast, digital billboards have hundreds if not thousands of LEDs, which are illuminated day and night. And LEDs function poorly at high temperatures, so the signs need a cooling system.

This would seem to be the worst of both worlds so, of course: we all want one. Turn your interstate into a lame version of the Vegas strip. Really, it’s another brilliant move by the outdoor advertising industry, who you should assume has all your best interests at heart – they’re looking out for you, just like all the health care companies and financial planning institutions that pay their biggest fees. But even outside of the inherent dangers of looking up from your iPad burrito Four Loko steering wheel and general eco-lessness of these forms of advertising, I’m more concerned about the sort of dull feeling about our surroundings that actually emanate from them, much more strongly than any other intended message. Beaming lights in articulation of a come-in and/or otherwise recognizable logo design is our current version of anti-beauty. And as much as LED billboards seem like some sort of natural evolution of the kind of eye-poison to which we’ve all become so accustomed and accommodating, they’re not. They are their own form of dystopia. I.e., an actual sign of something.

Since some call this the season of beauty, everyone should just take some time and re-load on the most agreeable things you can find. It will help us not be so accepting of these kinds of invasions into our mental space, especially through the pollution of actual space, using actual pollution to do it. Three birds: meet my friend, stone.